Ivory Tower Writing #23: Getting organized, part 1 – database and draft organization

While nobody likes to talk about their work process, especially writers, getting organized is perhaps one of the more underrated things that a writer (especially academics) has to do when starting or doing a writing project. For me, that means organizing my literature (books, journals, and even expert commentary), drafts (from rough drafts to pre-prints), and other stuff such as my notes, pictures, or graphs. Every now and then, I would sometimes have to stop writing halfway just to look up a reference. This constant moving back and forth from article to draft and vice-versa is tedious, although in my case, it helps me think better.

Surely, not all of my recommendations here might work for you. Since writing is a personal process, you should spend some time trying to find your own workflow. My advice here is mostly directed towards undergraduates, who often have to juggle different essays for different courses. In this post, I’ll show you how to organize your literature and drafts.

A quick disclaimer: throughout the post, you will see references to third-party software. I don’t get paid to advertise the software you see. I used them, in my personal capacity, and what you’re reading are my honest opinions of the software.

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Ivory Tower Writing #21: Writing a theoretical framework

Most of the time, your professor will likely ask you to support your paper with a theoretical framework. What you think this means may be, 

“Oh, I just need to find a theory that fits my current problem,” 

Or maybe, 

“I just need to list every single theory which I think has the slightest relevance to the topic I’m writing about,”

However, this isn’t usually the case. So what is a theoretical framework and how should you go around to creating one? Don’t worry, this is what this post is about.

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Ivory Tower Writing #19: Writing a film review for class

Though a film review wouldn’t necessarily qualify as a piece of academic writing (a book review would, which I’ll address in a future post), it’s indeed a nifty and also low-stress (experience may vary) exercise which helps sharpen that eye for detail, analytical argument, and reflexive skills (as in, “reflection” not motoric reflexes). 

And not to mention there’s an entire field of study in IR devoted to understanding the influence of pop culture and IR. In that sub-field, reflective analysis of films (also known as “visual artifacts”) make up a substantial part of the literature (see, for example, Heck’s analysis of narratives in docudramas [paywall]).

So, how do you write a reflective film review? This post provides some general guidelines. As such, it shouldn’t be treated as an authoritative template; instead, think of it as a simple checklist of things you may want to make sure are included in your review.

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Ivory Tower Writing #18: How many citations is enough?

This is a question I often get from my students, especially since I have a reputation for being a strict grader (to them, this is an understatement; I am known to be judicious (think Lawful Evil)).

Here’s the short answer to the question: it depends on what you’re writing, who you’re writing for, and your current skill level. It is a complicated blend of these three factors, and it’s not easy to discern the contribution of each.

No, seriously, ask anybody and they won’t give you a straight answer to this question. I had to find my own sweet spot, but my sweet spot is either too much or too few according to reviewers. What other people deem “normal” may be excessive or not excessive enough.

Now, the long elaboration. Note that this should not be interpreted as an absolute guide; instead, think of it as one of many voices out there trying to advise you. It all comes back to you and (mostly) your professor’s judgement.

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Ivory Tower Writing #15: The art of summarizing

This post covers a simple how-to in writing summaries.

So, it seems you’ve been asked to summarize a specific book or article, either at the request of your professor or (gasp!) own initiative. Being able to summarize effectively is an important skill you need to learn early on, especially if in your field of study, you deal with a lot of text and reading.

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Ivory Tower Writing #14: On paraphrasing and quoting

This post covers the basic of paraphrasing and quoting.

When you’re writing your paper, you are often required to read either articles or books relevant to whatever it is you’re writing. And you will find ideas that you would like to use in your paper. But if you were to simply copy-paste them, that would be called plagiarism and it is a grave academic sin. So, how do you avoid committing this sin?

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Ivory Tower Writing #13: Knowing your enemy – types of papers and what to expect (part 2)

This post further explains the types of papers you may encounter during your university life and what to expect from them.

I’d like to continue on from where we left off at post #8 when I first discussed the types of papers that you may meet throughout your university life. This time, let’s focus on some of the more specific types of papers.

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